Miami Dolphins second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill hasn’t received nearly as much national attention as fellow sophomore class members Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. But Tannehill has certainly caught the eyes of his next opponent, the New Orleans Saints.
Both coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees talked Thursday about how impressed they’ve been by the former Texas A&M receiver-turned-quarterback.
Tannehill has completed 71 of 107 of passes (66.4 percent) for 827 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions this season. Most importantly, he’s 3-0, including a 27-23 victory over the Atlanta Falcons last week that required a game-winning touchdown drive in the final minutes.
“He has been very efficient,” Payton said. “When you look at a lot of his numbers, not only in the red zone, but third down, I think the first and foremost important thing is leading the team to wins. I think he has the arm strength. He has the size, athleticism, and you can see on tape how much progress he’s made in the early part of this season. He is a very good talent, a very good athlete, and he’s locating the ball and doing all the things you want your quarterback to do, which starts with leading your team and giving them a chance to win each week.”
Brees said he’s only met Tannehill once but said, “He seems like a great young man.” Brees also gives Tannehill bonus points for being a fellow “Texas kid.” Brees, who is from Austin, Texas, said he’s jealous that Tannehill went to Texas A&M, where Brees had always wanted to go since both of his parents went there. Brees wound up at Purdue after being lightly recruited - but stressed that he wouldn’t trade that for the world.
“I think his journey has been an interesting one,” Brees said of Tannehill. “I believe he started out as a receiver, and if I’m not mistaken he was a pretty good one. Then all of the sudden he’s playing quarterback and drafted in the first round. So he’s obviously a phenomenal athlete. And he’s playing very well this year.
“He’s probably a guy that isn’t talked about a lot from last year’s draft class with the RGIIIs and Andrew Lucks and Russell Wilsons, but man he’s having quite the career thus far, especially early on in his career. I think he’s handled just kind of that process pretty well, and I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
Finishing strong: The Saints won their last game fairly easily -- a 31-7 rout of the Arizona Cardinals. But their first two victories over the Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both came down to the final play. As a result, the Saints now have the best winning percentage in the NFL since 2008 in games decided by seven points or fewer (19-8, .704), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Saints trailed the Falcons in that category heading into the season. But after narrow losses to both the Saints and Dolphins, the Falcons are now 1-2 this year in games decided by a touchdown or less and 22-11 since 2008 (.667).
That puts Atlanta third on the list. The Indianapolis Colts rank second at .676 (23-11).
Finishing Strong, Part II: The Saints defense has allowed only four touchdowns by opposing offenses all season. Three of them came in the first quarter (one each against Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Arizona). The defense has only allowed one touchdown all season over the final three quarters (early third quarter against Atlanta in Week 1).
Worth repeating: NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell singled out the Saints’ surging young defense while on ESPN Radio’s “The Herd” with Colin Cowherd on Thursday. When asked what NFL team looks best to him on film this year, Cosell quickly said the Denver Broncos on offense. But then he offered up the Tennessee Titans and Saints as two teams people wouldn’t think about on defense.
Cosell said he likes how “incredibly multiple” they’ve been, which challenges offenses in many ways. And he is particularly impressed by how well Saints rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro has handled his versatile role so far.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen as a safety used …,” Cosell said, not quite finishing his thought. “As a rookie safety, Kenny Vaccaro in four or five different positions is remarkable. I think back to (Pittsburgh Steelers star safety) Troy Polamalu, he couldn’t get on the field as a rookie. And here’s Kenny Vaccaro playing four or five positions really well.”
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